Friday, 13 September 2013 08:00

A Voice for Veterans: Remembering the Sacrifice

By Jackie Kingsland | News

Since that fateful day, September 11, 2001 when the U.S. faced unscrupulous attacks initiated from foreign lands, has caused this nation, its security and the citizens to forever change.

As more than a decade has passed now, the effects of the harrowing event will linger in our hearts and minds. The United States military has deployed service members multiple times, families have been separated from their loved ones and tragically many individuals have made the ultimate sacrifice. Notwithstanding and  appreciating the countless days and months of dedication that several volunteers and civilian workers willingly offered for recovery, cleaning and rebuilding, it is our nation’s service members which endured 12 years of relenting tours of duty overseas. Many troops return with the challenges of post-traumatic stress disorder and reintegrating back into society, finding gainful employment and becoming familiar again with their relationships, lives and work environment. New friendships have been formed and non-profit organizations created to provide support to our veterans and the loved ones of these military members have been touched so deeply, many began finding creative opportunities to educate the importance of honoring those who have served our country. 

For instance, a true story unwritten by myself and well worth sharing below, about a teacher, the daughter of a World War II Prisoner of War (POW),  who demonstrates to her students the gratitude and significance for the service and sacrifice to this country. Even if you have seen this before, it’s time well spent to review again:

‘In September of 2005, on the first day of school, Martha Cothren, a history teacher at Robinson High School in Little Rock, did something not to be forgotten. With the permission of the school superintendent, the principal and the building supervisor, she removed all of the desks in her classroom. When the first period kids entered the room they discovered that there were no desks. 

Ms. Cothren, where are our desks?

She replied, “You can’t have a desk until you tell me how you earn the right to sit at a desk.”

They thought, ‘Well, maybe it’s our grades.’  “No,” she said.

‘Maybe it’s our behavior.’ She told them, “No, it’s not even your behavior.”

And so, they came and went, the first period, second period, third period. Still no desks in the classroom. Kids called their parents to tell them what was happening and by early afternoon television news crews had started gathering at the school to report about this crazy teacher who had taken all the desks out of her room.

The final period of the day came and as the puzzled students found seats on the floor of the desk-less classroom, Martha Cothren said, “Throughout the day no one has been able to tell me just what he or she has done to earn the right to sit at the desks that are ordinarily found in this classroom. Now I am going to tell you.”

At this point, the teacher went over to the door of her classroom and opened it. Twenty-seven U.S. Veterans, all in uniform, walked into that classroom, each one carrying a school desk. The Vets began placing the school desks in rows and then they would walk over and stand alongside the wall. By the time the last soldier had set the final desk in place, those kids started to understand, perhaps for the first time in their lives, just how the right to sit at those desks had been earned.

Martha said, “You didn’t earn the right to sit at these desks. These heroes did it for you. They placed the desks here for you. They went halfway around the world, giving up their education and interrupting their careers and families so you could have the freedom you have. Now, it’s up to you to sit in them. It is your responsibility to learn, to be good students, to be good citizens. They paid the price so that you could have the freedom to get an education. Don’t ever forget it.”

Let’s thank some of the local organizations and colleges making a difference with their commitment and dedication to support our veterans: Patriot Hills of New York, VFW Post 420, Operation Adopt-a-Soldier, Empire State College, and Saratoga Rural Preservation Company. Thank you for your tireless efforts assisting with the transition and reintegration of our troops and their families; providing a place for veterans to gather and secure their rights and benefits for serving; for sending care packages, letters and a taste of home to deployed service members; offering tuition discounts, programs and services to military students and their families; and for providing training assistance and housing to homeless veterans. Also, thank you to my veteran, Kevin, for your 25-plus years of dedication, military service and resilience, and for the sacrifices you made serving in three wars. And as always, thank you to all of our veterans and families for all you do.

See you next month here at Saratoga TODAY.

Editor’s Note: According to Snopes.com and a representative of Joe T. Robinson High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, the event did happen. In 2005, military history teacher Martha Cothren did have all the desks removed from the classroom and did have veterans bring them in at the end of the day. An interviewer wrote that Cothren regularly has veterans visit her classroom; it is one of the ways she teaches her course on the history of World War II and the Vietnam War. In 2008, presidential candidate Mike Huckabee told the story during his campaign. Snopes said that some correspondents who identified themselves as former students at Joe T. Robinson High School who were present in Martha Cothren’s class that day have maintained that the account given by Governor Huckabee was somewhat embellished—they do say the number of veterans who visited their class was not as high as stated and those veterans were not in uniform. Nevertheless, her actions that day got the message across to the students.

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